A veteran Orange County prosecutor accused of illegally withholding evidence from a defense attorney should have her law license suspended for at least a year, the state bar recommended in a ruling released Wednesday.
Deputy District Attorney Sandra Lee Nassar should also be placed on three years of probation and show proof of “her rehabilitation, fitness to practice and present learning and ability in the general law,” according to the recommendation, which was made Tuesday.
The state bar recommended Nassar complete a program of classes on ethics and pass a test. If she clears probation she can avoid another year of suspension.
Nassar can appeal to the state Bar of California, and if that fails then she can appeal to the state Supreme Court, which has the final say.
Nassar was found to have committed misconduct by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals in 2013 when she withheld evidence of letters two defendants wrote to each other while in custody about a child-abuse case.
Lori Louisa Pincus took a plea deal from prosecutors admitting she tried to help her boyfriend, Carmen William Iacullo II, avoid legal trouble for abusing her 5-year-old son with beatings, stabbings and burning him with cigarettes. She was sentenced to two years behind bars that she had already served in the case.
Iacullo eventually took a 12-year prison sentence to avoid a life sentence, his defense attorney Joe Dane said.
But as his client was facing trial, Dane suspected Pincus had made a plea deal so he began asking for evidence related to the plea bargain, but Nassar did not respond, according to the state bar.
The prosecutor, unbeknownst to Dane, had placed what is termed a “mail cover” on any letters from or to Iacullo as he was in custody. That means guards intercept the letters and review them and send them to the prosecutor in the case before they are delivered to the inmate.
Nassar argued that Iacullo should have already been aware of the letters since they were sent to him, so she did not have to release to the defense. Also, she argued, there was only one letter she deemed potentially exculpatory.
Nassar acknowledged during testimony in an evidentiary hearing that she did not turn over the letters to Dane because “it relates to trial strategy.”
In the letters, Pincus said she did not think Iacullo was guilty because he wasn’t around during the time her son was injured, according to the state bar. She was reluctant to sign court documents acknowledging his guilt in the case as a result, according to the bar.
The state bar cited two similar cases of prosecutorial misconduct in arriving at the recommended suspension, but added, “One issue that distinguishes the present case (from the others) is (Nassar’s) lack of insight and understanding regarding her own misconduct,” the bar said in its recommendation. “This court found deeply disturbing (Nassar’s) testimony that she would engage in the same conduct again. In her capacity as a prosecutor, (Nassar’s) lack of insight on this subject represents a tremendous threat of future harm to the public and the administration of justice.”
The jailhouse letters came to light when another prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Duke, was assigned to the case and saw the evidence had not been turned over to Dane. Initially, she thought there was some legal reason it could be withheld and consulted with her supervisor, who said it should be turned over to the defense.
Duke turned over about 1,000 pages of evidence to Dane and canceled the order to intercept letters to Iacullo.
The state bar noted that Nassar had no prior record of discipline since getting her law license in 1998. She also received character references during her state bar hearings from six witnesses and 28 others wrote letters on her behalf.
Nassar’s “character witnesses were predominantly criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors, but also included a law school professor and an Orange County Superior Court judge,” according to the state bar.
–City News Service
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: